Movie Review: “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant
Guy Ritchie

Hollywood hasn’t been shy about its love for sequels, reboots and remakes this summer, but as far as big screen adaptations of mildly popular television shows go, you could do a lot worse than “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” In fact, though director Guy Ritchie has admitted that he wasn’t overly familiar with the 1960s TV series before signing on to the project, it’s the ideal property for a filmmaker like Ritchie to tackle, because it allows him to cherry-pick the show’s best bits and put his own spin on the material without worrying about stepping on too many toes. That approach worked well for his “Sherlock Holmes” movies, and it’s equally as effective with “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” an entertaining homage to retro spy films that makes up for what it lacks in substance with plenty of laughs and undeniable style.

In 1963, during the height of the Cold War, the United States and Russia agree to temporarily put aside their differences and combine forces when they learn that a secret criminal organization has kidnapped former Nazi scientist Udo Teller to build an atom bomb. The CIA and KGB assign their top agents – American thief-turned-spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and hard-nosed Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) – to infiltrate the organization led by the beautiful but deadly Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) in order to rescue Dr. Teller and prevent a global disaster. Assisting Napoleon and Illya on their mission is Teller’s daughter, Gabby (Alicia Vikander), a plucky mechanic whose uncle is their only lead in locating the bomb.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August


August may officially be part of the summer movie season, but with the exception of a few titles (“Fantastic Four,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), many of the new films being released this month are very un-summer-like. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course, as audiences are likely experiencing blockbuster fatigue at this point in the year, but while there are some promising movies on the schedule, you probably shouldn’t set your expectations too high. After all, in the past five years alone, there have been only a handful that we’d ever want to watch again.

“Fantastic Four”

Who: Miles Teller, Kata Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell
What: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways.
When: August 7th
Why: After going the lighter, more family-friendly route with its first two Fantastic Four movies, Fox has done a complete 180 with this gritty, super-serious reboot from director Josh Trank that surely marks the studio’s last chance to get it right. Unfortunately, that hasn’t shielded the project from the inevitable fanboy criticism, whether it’s the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, or recent rumors of the film’s troubled production. And while the casting debate is a non-starter (not only is Jordan an excellent actor, but he’s a great choice for the role), the latest trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that “Fantastic Four” is going to be any better than its predecessors. Different, yes, but not better.

“Ricki and the Flash”

Who: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan and Kevin Kline
What: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family.
When: August 7th
Why: On paper, “Ricki and the Flash” sounds like a surefire hit. It boasts Oscar-winning talent in the form of star Meryl Streep, director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody, and is perfectly positioned as a clever piece of counterprogramming to the barrage of superhero movies and action films. What’s not to like, right? As it turns out, an awful lot judging from the trailer. Not only has the whole rock star/estranged parent story been done countless times before, but nothing about the film suggests that it’ll bring anything new to the table, either. Though Streep’s recent trend of turning bad movies into awards contenders (see: “Into the Woods, “August: Osage County”) is certainly impressive, it’s hard to imagine that continuing here.

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